About Us

The Episcopal Church has been called ‘the Bridge Church’ between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism because our beliefs embrace both traditions. We are family grounded in the authoritative Holy Scriptures which infuse our study, worship and corporate life. The Episcopal Church is also deeply Sacramental, believing that Baptism is the door into the Church, that the Holy Eucharist is the central act of Sunday worship, and that the lesser Sacraments tangibly mediate the grace of God in the lives of men and women.

Our greatest theological document is The Book of Common Prayer. This book has formed Anglican thought and practice since its first publication of 1549 and continues its powerful influence in the current 1979 version. The Book of Common Prayer contains the services of the Church, the Psalter, Catechism, Creeds and Historical Documents and is a witness to the Episcopalian conviction that theology is done best while on one’s knees.

First, realize that if you want to be, we already consider you a member. You are most welcome at St. Stephen’s and we are glad to have you in our midst.

There is also a formal process to join the Episcopal Church and St. Stephen’s.

There are three important terms to understand when talking about membership in the Episcopal Church.

  1. Baptism – Baptism is open to all persons of any age. It is the act by which we bring people into the community of the church, invite the Holy Spirit to direct and sustain them in their lives, and the community promises to care for them in their Christian journey. People who are baptized are considered a baptized member.
  2. Confirmation – Because we often baptize infants, confirmation is the act by which persons can confirm the promises made for them at their baptism. People who have been confirmed are considered confirmed members.
  3. Communicant – A communicant is someone who is a regular adult member. These are persons who have been confirmed, is at least 16 years of age, and a regular attendee in church.

What do I need to do if….

I am already a confirmed Episcopalian

If you are already Episcopalian all you need to do to become a member of St. Stephen’s is to inform the office that you wish to do so and provide us with the name and city of the last church you regularly attended. We will take care of the rest of the process.

I was Baptized in a Christian church but I am not Episcopalian

If you are not Episcopalian and you wish to do so, we engage in a process called confirmation. Confirmation is a two-fold process.

First, it involves learning about the Episcopal church and its worship, history, and beliefs. It is a way to teach you what the church is all about and give you a chance to make an informed decision. This part of the confirmation process is done through a series of about 6 classes (called inquirers class). They are usually taught on Sunday mornings in the Fall. Other times and classes will be arranged if there is a demand for them.

The second part of confirmation is the actual service. Once you learn about the church and decide that this is the church you want to belong. Then you participate in the confirmation service that is done at the yearly visit by our Bishop. There he will formally welcome you into the church.

I am a confirmed Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian

There is one last scenario. If you are a confirmed Roman Catholic and wish to become an Episcopalian then the process is a little different. In conjunction with the priest, we will decide if you wish to attend the confirmation classes or not. Either way, when the bishop comes he receives you into the church (you are not confirmed because we fully accept the confirmation you had in the Roman Catholic church).

If I am not baptized

It has become more and more common that adults are not baptized. In the Episcopal church we have ways to both baptize and confirm persons at the same time. The process is similar to those who have not been confirmed. The only difference is that we baptize you in the same service.

The first step in the process of becoming a member is baptism. If your child has not been baptized in a Christian church then please speak with the priest. Baptism makes them a Baptized Member of the church.

The next step is confirmation. This usually happens around 12 years of age (depending on the child). They have classes especially deigned for them and they are confirmed with the adults at the Bishop’s visitation. Then they are a Confirmed Member of the church.

We recognize them as Communicants (regular adult members) when they reach the age of 16.

I. Child Care

Nursery Care:

The nursery is open at all major parish functions (Sunday mornings and Wednesday Night services) and at other times if requested. Our nursery is staffed by fellow parishioners who are loving and caring.

 

II. Church School

Church School:

We offer classes every Sunday from 10:00 – 10:50am for children of all ages. The curriculum stresses teaching the stories of the Bible to the youngest children. In middle school we stress history and our faith. And in High School we emphasize applying this knowledge to every day experiences and pressures. We have a fine Church School staff, all of whom are exceptional teachers.

First Holy Communion Class:

Classes designed to prepare young children to receive their first communion are given by the Rector. If you are interested in these classes please contact the Rector.

Church School Teachers:

One of the greatest opportunities for ministry at any church is that of Church School teacher. We are always looking for persons who wish to offer some of their time to teach our children or lead adult classes. No experience is required, we will assist you in planning your lessons. Please contact the Rector if interested.

 

III. Fellowship

Youth Group:

The youth group is composed of youth in Middle and High School. This group meets regularly and does many activities throughout the church and community.

Parish-Wide Covered Dish Suppers

At least once a month our parish gathers together on a Wednesday Night for worship and a wonderful covered dish supper. Children are especially welcome and we always enjoy a wonderful evening together. As always, a nursery is provided.

 

IV. Worship

Acolytes:

Children and youth are encouraged to participate in worship by becoming acolytes. Acolytes light candles, process with crosses, and assist at communion. This ministry is for children 8 years of age and up.

Youth Sundays:

Several times a year our children and youth become leaders in our church worship. They perform all possible duties, including: preaching, singing, reading, etc…

Other Worship Opportunities for Youth:

Youth generally are encouraged to assume adult responsibilities in worship. We have youth ushers, lay readers, choir members, and youth on the vestry. Please contact the Rector if you are interested.

 

 

I. Worship

Altar Guild:

The Altar Guild is responsible for the care of the Sanctuary and all vestments and vessels used in the Worship Services. The members, appointed by the Rector, prepare the Sanctuary and assist at all weddings, funerals and special services. Their work is invaluable to worship services and the beauty of the Sanctuary.

Choir:

The parish choir sings at the 11:00am service. The voices of the choir add significantly to the worship at St. Stephen’s’. The choir is open to all adults and youth of the Parish.

Ushers:

The ushers of the church are Lay persons who greet everyone as they come to worship services. Ushers assist worshipers by locating seats, distributing service leaflets, collecting and presenting the offering, directing and assisting those who wish to receive communion.

Lay Readers & Chalice Bearers:

Lay readers read the Bible lessons at the various services of the church and administer the Chalice during communion. They are picked and trained by the Rector.

II. Fellowship

Young Adult Fellowship:

Once a quarter the parish sponsors a fellowship get-together for all our families (especially with children). This is an even further attempt to allow our families and parents a time to interact and enjoy the fellowship of their fellow Christians. Baby-sitting is provided if needed.

Men’s Fellowship and Discussion Group:

The Men’s Fellowship, as the name implies, is a time for fellowship and discussion. The men gather over a specially prepared dinner for lively conversation and camaraderie. All men are welcome to attend these meetings.

Women’s Fellowship (Episcopal Churchwomen):

The Women’s Fellowship is an organization open to all women, offering ways to participate in the life of the church through worship, study, fellowship, outreach and stewardship.

Parish-Wide Covered Dish Suppers

At least once a month our parish gathers together on a Wednesday Night for worship and a wonderful covered dish supper. Children are especially welcome and we always enjoy a wonderful evening together. As always, a nursery is provided.

 

III. Christian Education

Sunday Bible Study/Discussion:

Adult Sunday School classes are held at the same time as classes for children (10:00 – 10:50am). Classes cover a number of topics. Please check the Newsletter for upcoming classes.

Inquirers Class:

Each Fall the Rector leads a class designed for those seeking to join the church or for those wanting to refresh their knowledge of the church.

Lenten & Advent Study Series:

During the church seasons of Lent and Advent the church holds weekly Wednesday Night studies. Usually the studies will begin with worship then move into a covered dish dinner and study.

Church School Teachers:

One of the greatest opportunities for ministry at any church is that of Church School teacher. We are always looking for persons who wish to offer some of their time to lead adult classes. No experience is required, we will assist you in planning your lessons. Please contact the Rector if interested.

Library:

The library of St. Stephen’s is located on the first floor of the Parish House across from the Kitchen. Parishioners are free to borrow books as needed. If you wish to assist in the library ministry please contact the Rector.

 

IV. Miscellaneous Organizations & Opportunities for Ministry

Vestry:

The Vestry is the lay governing body of the church that is elected by the parishioners to 3-year terms. The Junior and Senior Wardens act as executive officers and spokesmen for the Vestry, and should be contacted in case of emergency if clergy cannot be reached.

Office Volunteers:

Occasionally the church office needs volunteers to assist in printing, copying, folding, collating, etc. If you wish to assist us, when possible, please contact the church secretary.

 

PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL COUNSELING: Our clergy has extensive experience and training in counseling in matters of a personal as well as spiritual nature. Should you have a problem that you would like to discuss in confidence, contact the clergy at the Church office.

VISITATION: Members of our staff and volunteers regularly call on those who are hospitalized, shut-in, and those who would need a personal call. Please call the Parish office if you know of someone who is ill or might need a personal visit. The clergy and staff want to respond to your needs; that includes solace in time of sorrow, and celebration in time of joy.

BAPTISMS: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the first stage in becoming a Christian, is administered to both infants and adults. Baptisms are held in the context of our Sunday worship services. Candidates for Baptism (or their parents and godparents in the case of an infant) are required to attend a session of instruction prior to the administration of the Sacrament. Contact the clergy for further information regarding baptisms.

WEDDINGS at St. Stephen’s is arranged through the Rector. While the Canons of the Episcopal Church prescribe a minimum of 30 days between the request and the desired wedding date, premarital counseling and other aspects of marriage in the Episcopal Church demand that couples contact the Rector at their earliest possible convenience.

BURIAL OF THE DEAD is one of the ministries of the Church. When a person is near death, the Rector should be notified. The death of a member of the Church should be reported as soon as possible, and arrangements for the funeral should be made in consultation with the Rector.

OTHER SACRAMENTAL RITES, such as the Reconciliation of a Penitent or Laying on of Hands for the sick, are available and are often appropriate and helpful in the strengthening of one’s spiritual life. Speak to the Rector for more information.

 History of St. Stephens

A few years after the turn of the twentieth century in the township of Duke in Harnett County, North Carolina, William A. Erwin founded Erwin Cotton Mills. Erwin Cotton Mills later became Erwin Mills, a totally integrated manufacturing operation for textiles, and the township of Duke later became the town of Erwin, North Carolina.

The newly formed company was the center for economic growth in the community. It provided rental housing, retail stores, and municipal services. Social aspects of the community were also influenced, as the company sponsored amateur and semi-professional athletic teams and provided recreational parks.

The company’s founder, William A. Erwin, also felt a responsibility to provide plant workers and local citizens with their own churches; and in this regard, land and financial assistance were donated to construct a Baptist, a Methodist, and a Presbyterian church. Because Mr. Erwin was Episcopalian, he not only donated land, but also used his personal efforts, in addition to his financial assistance, to establish an Episcopal Mission.

In 1905, St. Stephen’s Mission began a meager existence among the more popular denominations of the community. Its foundation rested with a few families who were Episcopalians before arriving in Duke township. Early parish growth was influenced by the direct or implied points of persuasion of Mr. Erwin himself or of key company executives such as Mr. E. H. Bost, whose brother was an Episcopal priest. This may well have been the only source of early growth at St. Stephen’s.

The first church building, a wooden frame structure built on the present church site, was completed in early 1906. On April 5, 1907, Erwin Cotton Mills deeded the present land to the Diocese of North Carolina; and, two days later, Bishop Joseph Cheshire consecrated St. Stephen’s Church. The Reverend Samuel Hanff served both the Smithfield, North Carolina, Mission and St. Stephen’s. At St. Stephen’s, for an annual stipend of three hundred dollars, he led monthly services for a total of six families, twenty-two baptized persons, eighteen communicants, and forty-three church school members.

Growth was indeed difficult in those early years. On January 1, 1922, the Reverend Cortez Cody became the sixth priest to deliver his farewell sermon at St. Stephen’s. Ironically, the original structure issued its own farewell on that same Sunday when fire engulfed the building around 8:00 p.m. Attempts to save the church were futile, as hose lines drawn from the nearby textile plant were frozen solid. The altar, a pump organ and a few pews were all that could be salvaged. If, indeed, physical growth came to a halt on that fateful day, the growth of the small congregation’s spirit seemed to accelerate. The new church was rebuilt as it appears today; and, in answer to a petition read by Edwin Bost, Senior Warden and General Manager of Erwin Mills, Bishop Cheshire consecrated the second building on October 14, 1923.

Two years after St. Stephen’s was rebuilt a brick rectory was added on a lot adjacent to the sanctuary. Physical growth continued, and by early 1928, the Parish House adjoining the main church was completed. It was designed and financially supported by William A. Erwin. While the church facilities grew, the same type of rapid expansion was not evident within the congregation. Even though St. Stephen’s Mission was the only Episcopal Church in Harnett County, its existence seemed to be tied almost solely to Erwin. New members came from the ranks of “converted Baptists” or from such transiency as that imposed by Erwin Mills officials. The perseverance of that initial group of members paid off when St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was made a full-fledged member of the Diocese of North Carolina in 1937.

Aside from the changes made as part of the general upkeep of the church property, only a few additional changes have taken place since 1940. In 1941 the original pump organ was retired, and a magnificent Austin pipe organ was put in service thanks to the contributions of the congregation. This beautiful instrument has been carefully maintained over the years, and its resonance and clarity highlight today’s services as if it were newly installed. The reredos was completed in 1946, and new oak pews were given by members of the congregation and put in

service in 1954. In 1970 a new brick rectory was purchased at 4.00 Old Post Road, and it was the residence of the Reverend James Scouten (1970-1976) and the Reverend Hugh A. Whitesell (1967- 1989). Of a total of twenty-two priests who led St. Stephen’s from its formation until the present, Father Scouten and Father Whitesell served greater tenure by far than any of their predecessors.

Having only three priests from 1970 – 1999 has certainly been a stabilizing force within St. Stephen’s while change in the community has come rapidly in many different areas. Burlington Industries purchased the Erwin textile plant in 1962, and the small town of Erwin, North Carolina, became linked to an international system of commerce. In 1979 Campbell University, only six miles west of Erwin, gained university status.

St. Stephen’s remains the only Episcopal Church serving Harnett County. Although the church still has later generations of the first families who founded St. Stephen’s, current membership more widely reflects the diverse population of all of Harnett County. We are a county-wide parish on the threshold of exciting growth for the future.